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Esterbrook Fountain Pens

Esterbook Model J, brown marble (c1950)

R. Esterbrook & Co. made quite a few fountain pens during the first portion of the 20th century, but they wre far better known for their dip pens and points (see left), which they had been making since before the U.S. civil war. You see few of the pre-1940 Esterbrook fountain pens in circulation. Almost all of their fountain pens that turn up today date from the 1940s and 50s. These are the model Js, in a handful of variations: single or double jewels, solid, marbled, and pastel colors, standard, slender, short, and purse size.

Few would mistake the Esterbrook for a high-priced pen; the steel points and nickel plated trim are dead giveaways that these weren't intended as heirlooms. Nevertheless, they were built from quality materials with great attention to detail. Except where there has been deliberate abuse, few of them seem to suffer the ills that afflict other bottom dwellers: shrunken or warped plastic, rust blossoming through micron-thin gold wash, loose cap bands, etc. They gave (and continue to give) outstanding service to students, clerical personnel, nurses, and others whose need to write could not be indulged with a more expensive instrument. Esterbrooks were favored as company-issue pens, and you often find them stamped with imprints for Bell Telephone and other firms of the day.

Advertisement featuring an assortment of Model J Esterbooks
and Renew Points, courtesy Jim Gaston.

The most interesting feature of the Esterbook J was its user-replaceable "renew" point. Renew points encapsulated the point and feed into a single unit that could be screwed into the front of the pen. This wasn't a new idea, since Waterman (and others) had begun offering replaceable points as far back as the 1920s, but these units were generally intended for dealer installation. The Estie Renew Points, however, were very user friendly.

Comprehensive (but possibly incomplete) chart listing Esterbrook Renew Points
(I have a full-size version for printing here).

The name "Renew" suggests that they were meant as replacements for points that wore or corroded, but in fact Esterbook offered such a wide range of them that you could carry several around with you and change the writing personality of your pen at will (besides which, Esterbrook points never seem to wear or corrode). These points were all steel, and were identified by number; those in the 9xxx series (called "Master Points") used very hard iridum (or iridium alloy) nibs, and were consequently more expensive than the steel-nibbed "Durachrome" points.

Assortment of Esterbook Renew Points;
later unnumbered point with transparent holder at left.

The Verdict

Esterbrook Model Js are both highly collectible and highly functional pens. As I noted above, they are almost always in good condition when you find them, unless they've been wilfully abused by their previous owners. The plastic is pretty tough, and the trim is stable and does not corrode. Being for the most part simple sac pens, they are relatively easy to refurbish, and if you need parts you can always find a donor pen somewhere out there. The jewels are usually fused in place, and can't be unscrewed or extracted as is possible with more expensive pens; you can, however, be creative when rebuilding these, or you can simply wait for a parts pen with a suitable cap and barrel to turn up.

Esterbrook pastel "purse pen"

These pens should never be terribly expensive, unless you happen to find a pastel model, a nurse's set, or other rare model (such as an early model with the "two-hole" clip, or one with unusual color).

Esterbrook J Renew Points are still widely available and relatively inexpensive; try Pendemonium (http://www.pendemonium.com) or else the acclaimed Queen of the Esterbrooks, Lisa Hanes (http://www.penkreations.com).

Uncle Sam sports an an early Esterbrook J (with "two-hole" clip)
in an advertising illustration.

In addition to their standard pocket pens, Esterbrook made lots of their very chic desk holders (which typically look like sheared-off billiard balls), and offered taper desk pens to go with them. During the early 1960s, these pens were often used as presidential "bill signers" to sign copies of legislation. They were usually given away as souvenirs, and they frequently turn up in collections of pen enthusiasts as well as fans of political memorabilia.

Maker Esterbrook
Origin USA
Production 1945-1960c
Type Lever filler
Point Replaceable steel points with steel or iridium nibs.
Construction Celluloid barrel and cap in solid or marbled colors.